by Aurora Miller
Growing up, I considered myself a closet geek. That is to say, I got into all the same things geeks did, but I only did them behind locked doors. The fact is I was afraid of how far my social stock might plummet if it got out that I was more into comic books and science fiction than the Cabbage Patch Kids that other girls my age were obsessed with. After all, there is historical evidence: Members of the A/V clubs and Computer clubs of the world, while generally extraordinarily bright, have always been tormented by their classmates as Other and somehow Less.
Nerds, geeks, dorks, losers; whatever the title, it always means essentially the same thing. The students who wore pocket protectors and carried slide rules with them everywhere; who huddled around a pile of dice playing Dungeons & Dragons, hoarded stacks of comic books, spent hours on computers and waited almost feverishly for the next science fiction movie release. As each generation grew to adulthood there has been another, equally “socially-challenged,” waiting to take up the reins, so the jocks and prisses of the world never lacked for a group of underdogs to torment.
But then in the 80s, this tight-knit group of over-achievers began to get a kind of tribute from Hollywood. Movies like Revenge of the Nerds, Tron, and War Games were released, showing not only the human and vulnerable side of these poor misunderstoods, but also their strengths and talents; finally, geeks were shown to win the day. Of course, these movies would not likely have stood a chance if it hadn’t been for the grand-daddy of all geek movies, Star Wars – the enormous sweep of popularity the Holy Trilogy achieved suddenly transformed the dark underbelly of social inequity, and “sci-fi” was no longer a dangerous word to be kept at arm’s length if you valued your social standing.
Around the same time, another revolution was taking place farther up California’s coastline in the San Francisco Bay Area, what has become known as the Silicon Valley. While George Lucas was convincing Hollywood that there was another way to make movies, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were hard at work in their garage in the hopes of creating a computer that was both affordable and effective; the first “personal” computer. As we all know, they were successful beyond even their wildest fantasies, and before the decade was out, the technological revolution was in full swing, and geeks started showing up at their high school reunions driving Ferraris with a Playmate by their side. Being a geek seemed to have some rather tasty rewards.
The new millennium brought high resolution video game consoles with games that appealed to every kind of audience, out-grossing every other form of media entertainment… except for comic book based movies, of course. Hollywood studs now vie for leading roles in hitherto geek movies like Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, and soon-to-be released Sin City starring Elijah Wood and, well, Bruce Willis. The media has now made it permissible for everyone to tap into their Inner-Geek, while still being socially acceptable and “cool.”
Twenty years ago, none of us could have conceived of a day when “geeking out” would be a popular pastime; to get a group of friends together and play video games, or browse through comic book stores and the sci-fi shelves at the local bookstore to get some background on the new smash hit movie. And those who never felt the need to pay lip service to the gods of coolness are still at the forefront, pointing out to their less geeky peers what’s truly effective and why. Truly, it has become chic to be geek, and to know the histories of various comic book characters and excel in video game prowess. Hopefully, this new generation won’t remember anything different.
As they said so aptly in Revenge of the Nerds, “No one’s really gonna be free until nerd persecution ends.” That day seems to be here, and I for one, having ‘outed’ myself, am not going back in the closet. I now wear my Scarlet N [for Nerd] with pride, as a badge of honor. And my plans for Friday night? Call up my friends and meet them online for some MMORPG time, of course.